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Surtsey Island

Early in the morning of November 14, 1963, a fishing vessel off the south coast of Iceland reported a huge plume of smoke rising out of the water. Initially concerned that another ship might be in distress, it soon became apparent that the smoke was actually an ash cloud and that an underwater volcano was in the process of erupting. Before long the ash plume reached 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) into the sky, and could be seen clearly from Reykjavik. By the evening of November 15, the island of Surtsey had emerged out of the waters of the North Atlantic. It was named for Surtur, a giant of fire in Icelandic mythology.

two days after the eruption began
two days after the eruption began

Surtsey a few days after eruptions began, with lava clearly visible
Surtsey in early 1964

By the end of January 1964, the new island's elevation was 570.9 feet (174 meters), or over 984.25 feet (300 meters) above the sea floor. By the summer of 1964, insects and birds had made their way to the island. The first vascular plants appeared in June 1965, about the same time the first seals were observed on the beaches.

On May 17, 1964, lava eruption from the Surtsey volcano ceased. By this time Surtsey had an area of 1.1 square miles (2.8 square kilometers), and its peak was 554.5 feet (169 meters) above sea level. On August 19, 1966, lava began erupting from a series of new craters, and continued to flow until June 5, 1967. By the time the eruptions ended, they had lasted over three and a half years.

Due to the relative ease of access to Surtsey, scientists were able to study the eruptions and related tornadoes, waterspouts, hail, and lightning in great detail. Studies in a wide range of disciplines continue to this day. Access to the island is severely restricted, however, and only those with valid research proposals are allowed to set foot on Surtsey.

Today, Surtsey has an area of .54 square miles (1.4 square kilometers) and a high point of 505.25 feet (154 meters) above sea level. There are now about 60 different kinds of vascular plants, at least 10 kinds of nesting birds, and a variety of insects on the island.

Surtsey Island as it looks today
Surtsey Island as it looks today

Surtsey Island is just to the 'east' of the yellow arrow
location of Surtsey Island, just to the 'east' of the yellow arrow



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The Robinson Library >> Islands

This page was last updated on 09/27/2018.